Consultation to aid overburdened family courts likely to order courts to be more firm with separating couples to attend mediation.

There is no doubt that mediation is the preferred method of dealing with the issues surrounding children, property and finances following the breakdown of a relationship.  This has long been recognised and championed by the overburdened family courts which are already urging couples to attempt mediation before considering court. 

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, is leading a nationwide consultation on how the system can work better for people while at the same time free up the courts.  He says that the current volume of cases is ‘unprecedented and, on current resources, unsustainable’.  One of his current recommendations is that courts should be more strict about ordering people to attend mediation before attending court.

There is already a system in place that people should attempt mediation before going to court, however, statistics are not particularly good.  Despite expectations that a mediation requirement would direct more families away from court, the number of publicly funded mediation and information assessment meetings (MIAMs) has fallen by 66% while the number of mediation starts has fallen by 54%.

During the consultation period, Sir Andrew has met with many people affected by divorce and separation as well as professional and public groups, one being the private law group led by Mr Justice Cobb.

Mr Justice Cobb, has made 30 recommendations to Sir Andrew, one of which is that judges and court staff should be more prepared to enforce the MIAM requirement. Courts should automatically order MIAM attendance before the first hearing where this has not happened, no valid exemption has been claimed (for example domestic violence cases) and there is no safeguarding issue. 

The consultation completes in September and will be published in December. 

WYFMS would welcome such an approach.  Even if the potentially huge financial savings are discounted, mediation has been proven to be a far less stressful and quicker path to take than court attendance and it allows individuals to come to agreements over their own issues rather than a third party (the judge) tell them what is going to happen.